At Atlantic Insight, we believe very strongly in using actionable insight to drive performance improvements. One vital source of insight is a well-structured survey, collecting perceptions of a large number of employees within an organisation. In this article, I discuss nine factors that I believe must be addressed in detail in order for such a survey to deliver true actionable insight, which can then be used to improve your organisation.
1. Clear Objectives
It is essential to establish distinctly the objectives of the EX survey. Is it to benchmark current employee engagement with a view to making improvements? Are such improvements commercial in nature? Does employee engagement have links to diversity goals, company values or mission statement? Is there a specific objective for the survey, such as to reduce employee attrition? All of the objectives should be identified before survey design commences.
Another key factor to establish before survey design takes place is ownership. Who are the stakeholders? Who will conduct the survey? An important decision is whether to perform the survey by internal resource, or to use an external company like Atlantic Insight. The benefit of going externally is objectivity, class leading survey tech, experience in survey design and maximising participation, skills to analyse large database of responses and advise on actions (and can assist with delivering improvements too). Yet many organisations find that a bespoke mix of internal and external ownership can drive the optimum combination of cost and insight.
It is essential that a very large proportion of employees complete the survey. Is it necessary to make provision for offline employees, e.g. postal surveys to make sure all employees are included? Remind staff that their responses are anonymous to encourage participation and to provide honest answers. Make sure all levels of employees are included, from CEO to front-line staff.
Maximising participation is key to a successful survey. Before survey responses are encouraged, explain the purpose of survey and make sure individuals know when and why it is happening, and how their responses will be treated etc. A survey campaign may include posters in workplace, emails, workshops or company-wide addresses such as town hall meetings.
If employees are convinced that the responses will actually drive meaningful change in the workplace, they are more likely to respond. Other factors that will improve respondent rate include timing, software functionality (automated reminders, respondent tracking), anonymity and incentives.
The best-in-class survey tools will help drive the best insight and maximise response. The tool used must be able to combine all forms of responses, whether it be online or offline. It should also make sure all answers are completed, with validation rules for responses. Branch logic should be elegant, so that a responder does not see the complexity of the if-then rules following certain responses. Surveys must be available on any device-type and platform and any operating system.
System security and integrity are important factors when selecting the correct survey tech. Tools should control responses intelligently to limit responses to ensure they cannot be corrupted, for example someone attempting to complete multiple responses.
Benchmarking allows organisations to compare results with other organisations within the same industry, and also a wider field, such as companies of the same size or location. The benchmarking questions are identical ones that allow responses to be compared across organisations. This can provide insight to how your organisation is performing, because it gives insightful context to a particular score.
Yet a major drawback of benchmarking is that it constrains questioning and structure to what was used in previous surveys. Any slight change away from a benchmarking question will introduce some bias, and mean that comparison to the benchmark is inappropriate.
Also, even with identical questions, there may be some bias due to the context of when the responses were submitted; the time the survey was taken (was it during a period of low morale caused by internal or external factors); the order of questions in survey; and even how the survey was communicated and its objectives. Even further, terminology used in different organisations can have different meanings, such as ‘senior’, ‘leadership’ and ‘management’, which can lead to ambiguity. It is difficult to eliminate all benchmarking bias – minimise as much as you can, but be cognisant of it.
Repeating surveys allows for progress to be tracked over time. This is invaluable to tracking experience and engagement against your organisation’s actions. Ideally, insight gleaned from your initial survey should drive a change programme incorporating both quick wins and longer-term projects. Repeating the survey either in its entirety or with more frequent, shorter pulse surveys will allow you to gauge the improvements made and areas for continued focus.
Establishing surveys as the norm can improve morale and engagement in its own right, if the responders believe that their contribution may result in meaningful change.
What analysis tools should be used to find the insight nuggets hidden away within the data? Typically, the output data of a survey isn’t complex, yet a methodical approach, combined with the correct analysis/presentation tool is essential to gain maximum value from the exercise, to make sure that no useful insight is overlooked. This element is where an objective third party provider can bring significant value.
8. Sharing Results
Consideration of how to present and share the results of a survey should not be left until the project end. Instead, it should be discussed and planned at the design stage in order to achieve full benefits of the survey. Who should see the results? How should they be shared? Might there be printed copies, presentations, or even workshops to analyse findings? Are there separate reports for leadership and frontline staff?
9. Actionable Insight
Surveys require an associated improvement plan – otherwise there will be no benefit from their cost, and also employees may become cynical if nothing changes after their views have been taken.
Ensure that learnings are identified and that the ownership of a resulting change programme is clear. An employee survey may result in a large number of cheap and quick improvements. Also, more significant change, such as restructuring and rewriting company values, can bring benefit.
Remember that, rather than pointing to solutions, surveys may just highlight a particular area where more study work needs to be done. Further actions may include data gathering, business modelling and other consultancy work to determine how best to address problems identified in the survey.
Giles Geddes is a partner of Atlantic Insight and has over 20 years’ experience of improving performance within operational areas within a wide range of industries. Please get in touch with us if you would like to discuss how to best implement an Employee Survey within your organisation.
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